Invisalign (US, since 1997)
The Align company was established in the US in 1997. The idea actually came from Z. Chisthi who had noticed that, if he did not wear his removable plastic retainer, his teeth always got out of position again very quickly after his orthodontic treatment had come to an end. Similarly, when he wore his retainer regularly, it was very easy to straighten the teeth again. Chisthi developed the idea of applying this principle to a whole course of orthodontic treatment: i.e. to move teeth using thin transparent plastic foils. So, Align was set up with the help of investors and, from its very simple beginnings, the Align System was perfected. In 1999, at the US Orthodontists Conference (AAO) R. Boyd presented the Invisalign Treatment.
The innovative thing about Align was that a whole series of models, right up to the desired end-result, could be manufactured from just one single impression of the teeth using CAD/CAM technology. These models could then be used to produce a random series of aligners for the patient without having to take any new impressions. Since the models used to manufacture the Aligners are physically available, making replacement aligners is a very easy matter. Align’s own software ClinCheck allows the orthodontist to plan the treatment right down to the last detail. But to do this, it is important to look very carefully at ClinCheck on the computer screen. The treatment simulation can also be discussed together with the patient. It is also very easy to make changes to the treatment plan before the Aligners are actually manufactured. Align also offers the possibility of making changes during treatment for a relatively low cost (mid-course correction) in addition to several sets of free Aligner corrections at the end of the treatment (case refinements). A case refinement is necessary for about half of Invisalign patients in order to achieve a good result whereas a second case refinement is only necessary for about 10% of patients. But unfortunately this also has to do with the fact that adult patients do not wear the Aligner for long enough.
Though the computer-aided Invisalign-System may be fascinating, it was unfortunate that Align was able to get a US patent to produce more than three aligners from just a single impression. But any orthodontic technician had already been able to do this for some time without the aid of computer technology. So, what we have here is a trivial patent that, in the eyes of many specialists, has been wrongly granted. This patent enabled Align to sue any potential competitors right out of the market. The best known victim of this strategy was the American company OrthoClear in 2006. OrthoClear was founded by Z. Chisti, the inventor of the Invisalign, and some other colleagues from Align who had been fired by the company. OrthoClear could have been a very serious competitor to Invisalign but Align sued the company out of the market. Not even in Germany are competitors of Align protected from such legal action. Align’s American patents prevent other companies from developing their products organically because this will always put them in danger of infringing the patent. In spite of this, there are presently companies in many European countries that compete with Align and its Invisalign product.
The Invisalign Treatment Process:
- The silicon impressions are sent off to Align and the patient’s images are sent via the Internet.
- The impressions are scanned in by Align and a 3D treatment simulation is sent to the orthodontist.
- The orthodontist receives the suggested course of treatment (ClinCheck) which is then discussed with the patient.
- If the ClinCheck is accepted, the case is confirmed online.
- After about 4 weeks, the completed Aligner is sent to the orthodontist.
- The patient has the first aligner fitted.
Together with eCligner, Invisalign is technically the most advanced Aligner system there is. But this makes Invisalign relatively expensive which means that it is uneconomical to use it for very small movements of the teeth. On the other hand, for very extensive treatment, the computer-aided systems such as Invisalign and eCligner are superior to the hand-made systems both in terms of quality and price.